From studs to duds, sleepers and more, NFL.com breaks down the biggest fantasy stories of the week.
1. Kurt Warner throws five touchdown passes in Chicago.Fantasy owners who've been starting Warner had to be concerned entering Week 9. After all, he'd just come off a five-interception disaster against the Panthers and had averaged an unimpressive 11 fantasy points in his last two starts. Well, it turns out that the Chicago Bears defense was the perfect elixir for what ailed the veteran quarterback. Warner took the Bears apart, completing 22 of 31 passes for 261 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-21 rout. What made those numbers even more impressive was that Warner posted them without Anquan Boldin, who was deactivated (and not happy about it) due to a problematic ankle ailment.
Of course, it helps when you have a wideout like Larry Fitzgerald. The fantasy superstar dominated Bears cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman for nine receptions, 123 yards and two of Warner's five scores. Warner, who is now on pace to finish the season with 4,350 yards and 32 touchdowns, should continue to find success based on a schedule that includes games against the Seahawks (17th), Rams (2; 22nd), Titans (32nd), Vikings (21st), 49ers (24th) and Lions (31st). As you can see, none of those defenses are even in the top half of the league in pass defense. So fantasy owners who were patient with Warner through his recent struggles are about to be rewarded handsomely in their leagues.
2. Calvin Johnson returned, but you wouldn't know it. Towards the end of Sunday's Lions-Seahawks game, my sister Denise sent me an instant message that read, "Calvin Johnson is the biggest bust in fantasy this year." I don't know if he's the biggest bust, but the fact that he has the same number of fantasy points on NFL.com as Mark Clayton and Earl Bennett is enough to call him an enormous disappointment. In his first game back from an injured knee, the man called Megatron hauled in just two passes for 27 yards. That isn't the sort of production fantasy owners were hoping for when they took Johnson, a true superstar last season, in the second or third round of their fantasy draft.
Despite his horrendous stat line against the Seahawks, there were some positives for Johnson. He was heavily targeted in the contest, as Matthew Stafford threw the ball to Johnson nine times. By comparison, Chad Ochocinco and Reggie Wayne were also targeted nine times in their respective games. Johnson also didn't seem any worse for wear after missing time with a knee ailment. The one problem could be Stafford, who threw five interceptions and looked awful in the second half. If you have Megatron on your roster, there's nothing to do but continue to start him and hope he transforms back into the fantasy stud we knew from last season. With upcoming games against the Vikings (21st), Browns (22nd), Bengals (25th), Ravens (19th), Cardinals (29th) and 49ers (24th), none of which are formidable against the pass, Johnson's fortunes should turn soon.
3. So much for that dreaded "Curse of 370." Heading into this season, fantasy owners had to be at least a little concerned about Michael Turner's ability to handle a heavy workload two seasons in a row. After all, the Burner was coming off a 2008 campaign that saw him rush the football 376 times. Based on the decrease in production of past backs who've hit that 370 mark, Turner was destined to see his numbers fall, right? Well, Turner's success has answered that question with an emphatic no. After posting 151 yards and one touchdown in a Monday night loss in New Orleans, Turner ran all over the Redskins for 166 yards and two touchdowns. And he did it in just 18 rushing attempts.
Based on his current numbers, Turner will finish the season with 1,440 rushing yards. That's 259 fewer yards than he had in 2008, but it's still solid. Just ask anyone who took Matt Forte ahead of him in drafts. He's also on pace to find the end zone an incredible 20 times, which would be three more than he had last season. The most important projection, however, is his carries. Turner is on pace to tout the rock 312 times. That's an average of four fewer carries per game compared to his 2008 totals. What makes that drop in carries a bit shocking is that backup runners Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling have both missed time with injuries. That's left Turner to see most of the backfield work in recent weeks. Regardless, the man we call "Canton" in the news room here at the NFL offices in Culver City, Calif., has been well worth his first-round price tag.
4. DeAngelo Williams is hitting his second-half stride. At the start of the 2008 season, Williams wasn't even considered the best fantasy back on his own team. That status was held by Jonathan Stewart, an upstart rookie out of Oregon who was supposed to emerge as the starter in Carolina. After a slow start, however, Williams showed that he was still the main man in the team's backfield. Starting with a Week 8 game against the Cardinals, Williams would compile 1,101 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. Those totals helped countless owners win a fantasy championship. Don't look now, but Williams is at it again -- and owners couldn't be happier about their decision to take him in drafts.
Williams' second-half surge started a little earlier than it did in 2008, but he's rushed for 149 yards or more in three of his last four games and has found the end zone five times in that stretch. That includes a 149-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 30-20 loss to the Saints in Week 9. Williams averaged an amazing 7.1 yards per carry in the contest. He's also on pace to rush for 1,536 yards, which is 21 yards more than he had last season. Williams is also on pace to post 14 touchdowns. While he does have some tough games ahead against the likes of the Patriots, Vikings and Giants, Williams has become a matchup-proof back and a must-start option in all formats.
5. Jay Cutler and Greg Olsen connect for three scores. There weren't many positives to come out of Week 9 for the Bears on the field, but there was plenty of fantasy success in the stat sheets. Cutler scored 31 fantasy points on NFL.com, posting 369 yards and three touchdowns in the contest. All three of those scored went to Olsen, who put up 25 points of his own. It was the sort of game fantasy owners had envisioned ever since Cutler was traded to Chicago, it just took a little longer to happen than expected.
The performance moved Olsen into the top eight in fantasy points among tight ends, but is it a sign of things to come? Well, you have to keep in mind that the Bears were down 27 points and basically threw the ball for much of the second half. But the fact that Olsen was targeted seven times, including three times in the red zone, is a real positive. Even with Matt Forte in the backfield, the Bears have become a passing team with Cutler at the helm. Forte, who saw just five carries against the Cardinals, is on pace to finish this season with 246 carries (or 70 fewer than he had in 2008). By comparison, Cutler is on pace for 572 pass attempts. That would be the most of any Bears quarterback since 1995, when Erik Kramer posted 522 pass attempts. Olsen might not be consistent, but he's still a surefire fantasy starter in most leagues.
News and notes
» Redskins RB Clinton Portis was knocked out of Sunday's game against the Falcons and could be in danger of missing Week 10 and beyond. NFL teams have become much more cautious with players who've suffered concussions (Brian Westbrook has missed two straight games since his concussion), so don't be shocked if RB Ladell Betts starts for the Redskins when they host the Broncos. He'll be one of the most popular names off the waiver wire this week.
» Bengals RB Cedric Benson ran all over the Ravens in Week 9, posting 117 yards and a touchdown in a 17-7 win. In two games against Baltimore, the former Texas star has a combined 237 yards and two scores. He joined former Steelers RB Jerome Bettis as the only player to have 100-plus rushing yards against them twice in a single season. Benson, who had an ADP of 82.87 on NFL.com, has become one of the top backs in fantasy football and a must start.
» Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown scored just 11 fantasy points in Week 9 and has averaged a mere 7.6 points in his last three games overall. But don't fret, fantasy owners, because he's going to turn things around much sooner than later. Over the final seven weeks of the fantasy season, Brown faces the Buccaneers, Panthers, Bills, Jaguars, Titans and Texans. None of those defenses rank better than 18th in the league in run defense this season.
» Texans RB Ryan Moats got the start and received most of the carries against the Colts, but he did lose work to Steve Slaton in the second half after losing a goal-line fumble. Slaton also saw a red-zone rushing attempt that resulted in a fourth-quarter touchdown, so there are no definitive roles in the backfield. Whether or not Moats remains the starter after the team's bye remains to be seen, but this situation has become a headache for fantasy owners.
» Titans RB Chris Johnson has become a featured option in the backfield of coach Jeff Fisher this season. Despite the presence of RB LenDale White, Johnson continues to receive most of the carries and even sees red-zone touches. Johnson has been a fantasy beast after the Titans' bye week, posting 62 fantasy points in his last two games. That includes a 27-point outburst against the 49ers, who entered the week ranked in the top five in run defense.
» Eagles coach Andy Reid told reporters that RB Brian Westbrook missed Sunday night's game due to the concussion he suffered back in Week 7. However, Reid also said that Westbrook is now dealing with an ankle problem as well. That's a cause for concern for fantasy owners, as Westbrook had surgery on the ankle in the offseason but continues to have problems. The aging back appears to be a risk-reward fantasy option. Trade him now if you still can.
» Cowboys WR Miles Austin caught only one pass in Week 9, but it was good for 49 yards, one touchdown and 10 fantasy points in standard leagues. Despite the fact that he didn't start his first game until Week 5, Austin is now tied with three fantasy studs (Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Randy Moss) with 102 points on NFL.com. He's also tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns with six and has become a surprise must-start option in all formats.
» Packers QB Aaron Rodgers continues to be a star in fantasy circles, but he's taking an absolute beating on the field. The offensive line has allowed 37 sacks, and the tendency of Rodgers to hold the ball too long in the pocket doesn't help his cause. Fantasy owners have to be concerned that Rodgers, who was considered injury prone before last season, will be able to last another seven weeks, especially if the Packers fall out of the postseason race.